July 18, 2006

Psychiatrist shortage brings rise of teleconferencing

Read more... Schizophrenia Coping

A shortage of psychiatrists in rural Texas is forcing mental health organizations to get innovative in their approach towards treatments.

The Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) had this to report on the new trend:

With unsteady hands, Raymond arranged his medicine bottles on the table in front of him. Every few minutes, he nervously moved them around again, darting an occasional glance at the television across the table.

A moment later, the face of Edinburg psychiatrist Dr. Ricardo Irizarry appeared on the television screen, and for the first time, Raymond talked with a doctor via teleconferencing. He told Irizarry about the three medications he takes for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and that one was making him feel groggy. The doctor agreed to adjust the dose of his medication, which, Raymond said afterward, was a relief.

Raymond, whose last name isn't used to protect his privacy, said later that he felt surprisingly comfortable talking with a doctor who was more than 60 miles away.

"It's just normal, like he was right here," he said. "I think we understood each other."

Facing a dire shortage of full-time psychiatrists, the Valley's community mental-health provider, Tropical Texas Center for Mental Health and Mental Retardation, is planning to offer psychiatric tele-medicine to its patients. Once a contract is finalized, the center likely will form a partnership with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which will be offered at the Harlingen, Brownsville and Edinburg clinics.


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